TO CELEBRATE THE RECENT RELEASE OF OUR 33 1/3 ON LCD SOUNDSYSTEM’S SOUND OF SILVER, WE’RE PLEASED TO BRING YOU THE SECOND INSTALLMENT OF LCD SOUNDSYSTEM WEEK BY AUTHOR RYAN LEAS!
DJing, despite the communal experience it can fuel or the breadth of other artists the act touches through its curatorial nature, is a mostly solitary endeavor. One, maybe two, people at the helm of an experience, coasting above it, steering it. James Murphy as we know him had his start in this or that band, or in production work, but especially as a DJ. And he carried various parts of that ethos into LCD Soundsystem, a solo creative endeavor that, while it occasionally included other musicians, was always his vision. He’s a perfectionist, the kind of artist to tinker and re-edit repeatedly in seclusion. Yet he’s also been a collaborator in different guises over the years—writing music for movies, remixing other people’s work, producing other artists. He was a DJ and a committed music nerd, and could bring an expansive array of touchstones to whatever other project in which he involves himself.
This was part of the promise of the interim years between LCD’s retirement and the eventual reunion. The idea that, while Murphy didn’t want to be a rockstar touring through middle age, he would still be a creative force even in his post-LCD life—that this would free him up to take on the kind of projects he’d had to turn down while the LCD machinery was in full force. That was explicitly referenced when he contributed to Arcade Fire’s Reflektor, a partnership that had been attempted years before but impossible until that point. Even so, Murphy’s wilderness years between LCD pt. 1 and pt. 2 will be remembered just as that—wilderness—as he pursued several esoteric ideas and projects without ascending to the stature he seemed poised for. He didn’t become the Brian Eno of this generation, or of indie music, or whatever. For every glimpse—a Bowie remix, and some work on Blackstar; producing a one-off Pulp single—that suggested the great things that could be possible, it inevitably didn’t yield the kind of full-scale, fruitful collaborations us fans could easily dream up for post-LCD Murphy.
Now that LCD is back, chances are that window has closed again for the time being. But it’s still fun to think about what could’ve been. The following is a list of dream collaborations we could imagine James Murphy taking on. Some are rooted in past interactions, some are more far-fetched, but all come with the stipulation that these would have to be things that would be actually plausible today (so, no transporting Murphy back to the early-’80s to produce Talking Heads and, sadly, no more dreams of him producing a latter-day Bowie album).
Jarvis Cocker hasn’t released an album in seven years, which feels criminal. This guy is too gifted a songwriter and lyricist to not be in the game. He’s too much of a canny and witty cultural observer to not be churning out work in today’s climate. Sure, there was that Pulp reunion, but that was an engagement that didn’t yield any new music save “After You,” a full-fledged recording of a demo left over from the sessions for Pulp’s swansong We Love Life. James Murphy produced “After You,” highlighting a potential collaboration that had previously never crossed my mind. I don’t think of Murphy as having much association with Britpop, despite some of the genre’s luminaries—Cocker included—having some of the same musical touchstones as him. There was a certain “oh, shit, of course” reaction to “After You”—could you imagine Murphy and Cocker crafting a weathered, middle-aged dance-rock album in which both of their incisive eyes were set on the world?
Here’s another one I didn’t really ever think about until Albarn and Murphy crossed paths briefly for a Gorillaz track. Like Cocker, though, Albarn is a guy enamored with some of the same music as Murphy, and is a songwriter equally capable of crushing emotional works alongside performative and/or critique-driven cultural narrative. And he’s wildly prolific. You could picture Murphy injecting a rubbery energy into another new Blur album, or helping corral the wide range of characters, voices, and aesthetics necessary for the next Gorillaz album. Better yet, he could partner with Albarn on a solo album less somnambulant than 2014’s Everyday Robots.
Each of M.I.A.’s releases is very good or great, and each features production work from a handful of producers. Yet the most enduring work in her catalog may have resulted from when she’s partnered with someone who helps siphon the radical, sometimes all-over-the-place nature of her vision into little perfect, yet still-bizarre, pop forms. Her sophomore album Kala perhaps has the most songs that fild this mold in her career, and it of course has “Paper Planes”—the song that the DFA remixed. Murphy and his erstwhile accomplice Tim Goldsworthy turned one of my generation’s defining pop songs away from its original, defiant pulse, and drove it headlong into a shuffling, unshakeable groove. The song struts with a casualness and cockiness rarely heard in the more frenetic work M.I.A. has done since, all building to the simple yet very effective climax of that piano part coming into the mix. It’s tempting to think what Murphy and M.I.A. could come up with if they actually collaborated directly.